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Negotiating (In)dependency: Social Journeys of Vietnamese Women to Cambodia

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Since the issue of human trafficking is subject to judicial, moral and political constraints, this research chose to study Vietnamese sex workers in Phnom Penh as a common migration phenomenon in order to see when, how and why some women ended up in situations of bondage. On the basis of four months of research in the Mekong delta, the paper explores the journeys leading Vietnamese women to Phnom Penh. It concurs with the recent literature that debt-bonded sex work is not always an unending situation and that it could be an effective means to cope with socio-cultural pressures. We argue that, in addition to labour arrangements, some women find in sex work a way to deal with their (in)dependency with regards to their families, achieving greater control over their resources and experimenting different meanings of womanhood. Far from denying human trafficking, the paper tries to explore the grey area that lies between this extreme and voluntary migration. While the results of this research are not representative of the whole phenomenon, we argue that these few elements help explain why women keep taking the risks of migration for sex work and expose themselves to situations of bonded labour.

Affiliations: 1: Université du Québec à Montréal and Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement (IHEID)


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